Physicians and other medical providers are under a legal obligation to make reasonable and timely diagnoses of their patients. While doctors are not expected to be correct 100 percent of the time, they are required to adhere to the medical standards of care when making a diagnosis. Unfortunately, misdiagnoses occur relatively often. This type of medical malpractice can lead to serious patient injury or death.
What Is a Misdiagnosis?
A misdiagnosis is a mistaken medical diagnosis. It refers to a missed, late, or incorrect diagnosis of a patient’s medical condition. When a misdiagnosis occurs due to a preventable error or lapse in judgment by a doctor, it constitutes medical malpractice: professional negligence by a health care provider that leads to subpar treatment, resulting in injury or death to a patient.
When making a diagnosis, physicians must adhere to the differential diagnosis method as the medical standard of care. This refers to making a list of possible conditions that may be causing a patient’s symptoms. A doctor should make this list based on the patient’s medical history, diagnostic tests, and physical examination. The doctor should then order additional tests or refer the patient to a specialist to narrow down the list until the most likely diagnosis remains.
How Common Are Medical Misdiagnoses?
According to a study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, diagnostic errors are the most common, most catastrophic, and most costly form of medical malpractice. An estimated 40,000 to 80,000 misdiagnosis-related patient deaths occur each year in the U.S. Around 12 million patients suffer a diagnostic error annually; one-third (33 percent) of these misdiagnoses result in serious or permanent damage or death.
The most commonly misdiagnosed diseases leading to permanent disability or death are cancer (37.8 percent), vascular events (22.8 percent), and infections (13.5 percent). These three conditions account for almost 50 percent of serious patient harm related to misdiagnoses. The top misdiagnosed conditions within these categories are lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal and prostate cancers, skin cancers, stroke, heart attack, blood clots, rupture of the aorta, meningitis, spinal infection, pneumonia, and heart infection.
“Failures of clinical judgment” were identified in more than 85 percent of the misdiagnosed cases studied by Johns Hopkins. Interventions such as using computer-based diagnostic support tools, increasing access to specialists, engaging with patients more during diagnoses and improving education through simulation training are recommended solutions.
The Consequences of Misdiagnosis
Misdiagnosis puts patients at risk of not receiving the medical treatments that they need or receiving unnecessary treatments for a condition that the patient does not have. This can lead to poor health outcomes, including serious injury, permanent disability, increased mortality and morbidity rates, and wrongful death.
The consequences of misdiagnosis can include:
Worsening of the patient’s medical condition
Unnecessary medications or surgeries
The spread of infectious diseases
Physical and emotional harm
Loss of quality of life
Significant financial burden
Health care providers can prevent misdiagnoses by adhering to the required standards of care, carrying out the correct diagnostic processes and communicating effectively with their patients. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice in the form of a misdiagnosis, contact a medical malpractice lawyer at Loughlin & FitzGerald, P.C. to explore your legal options during a free consultation.